So, after the generally fun and lighthearted “save the whales” movie, one that could act as a great gateway for new fans, the next Star Trek movie was…this one, arguably the worst one to feature the original cast. It’s just…not very good.
Well, I’m a completionist, so let’s look at the movie that nearly killed the franchise.
Apparently, this movie started out in part because William Shatner had a clause in his contract that said whatever Leonard Nimoy got, Shatner also got. And since Nimoy directed two movies, that meant Shatner could have his own turn in the director’s chair. Does that mean Kirk gets a bit more attention than he usually does? He does seem a wee bit more heroic than usual, and he may be at the center of a story where, ironically, the villain is Spock’s heretofore unmentioned half-brother Sybok.
Fun fact: the producers had tried to get Sean Connery for Sybok, but Connery was too busy playing Indiana Jones’s father, so there’s something else we can thank Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for. That said, one of the things I can say actually works in this movie is Laurence Luckinbill’s turn as the renegade Vulcan. Sure, he looks like a Vulcan and he can do the mind meld when he needs to, but he also a figure of genuine warmth. He may be the antagonist, but he never comes across as evil. If anything, he’s a well-intentioned fellow who just took the wrong path to help people. Heck, the guy abhors violence. Not a bad impression made by an actor who got the job because Shatner found him on TV while flipping channels.
Plus, for all the movie is a mess, it does have a number of good ideas at its center. The planet that is meant to be a symbol of galactic peace between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans is a neglected craphole. The only real building there seems to be a strip club/bar. Spock having a brother, and what that brother does, is a fascinating concept. And there’s always the genial camaraderie between the different members of the crew, particularly Kirk, McCoy, and Spock.
Is there anything else to like about this movie? The source of McCoy’s pain gives an interesting angle to the character. I like Scotty pretty much all the time as he is the one member of the crew who isn’t really involved in all the craziness that’s going on, giving him the chance to look side-eyed at every screwy thing that happens, particularly when Uhura seems to be flirting with him because she apparently carried a torch for him or something.
Yeah, Uhura flirting with Scotty seemed weird.
Plus, I do like any time the Klingons show up in this movie.
But then there’s the rest. The special effects in this one are laughably bad. The transporter is offline for most of the movie, so that means shuttlecrafts, but it also means the one Uhura picks up Kirk, McCoy, and Spock in is seen as just a bright light in the trees. I think I’ve seen home-produced YouTube videos with better spaceship effects than there is in this movie.
Dodgy special effects aren’t all there is. There’s also just odd moments. Spock gives a horse the Vulcan nerve pinch at one point. Scotty knocks himself out on a low ceiling. Uhura does a fan dance that raises more questions than anything else, starting with “Are Uhura’s fans standard equipment for any raid?”
The movie even has its own “Martha moment” when Kirk non-chalantly asks the being Sybok has been looking for “Why does God need a starship?”
That earns Kirk an eyeblast from “God”. He goes flying. Spock repeats the question and also gets blasted…off-screen.
Seriously, so much happens off-screen in this movie.
And for all this movie is batspit insane, it was almost even more batspit insane. The being that isn’t God was almost the literal devil. Spock and McCoy were also supposed to join Sybok and leave Kirk alone, but Nimoy and DeForest Kelley both basically said their characters would never do that. What does that say for Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov who all do join with Sybok? Was their personal pains (whatever they were) so great that they were the only things keeping the lot of them loyal to Starfleet or Kirk?
By the by, David Warner is slumming through this one as the Federation representative slumming it through his tenure on the Peace Planet. I like to think they put Warner in the next one as a Klingon to make it up to him for this movie’s waste of his general awesomeness.
So, all things being what they are, I am reminded once again to be wary of any movie with the original cast using what sounds like the Next Generation theme music. They only did it twice and neither of them worked. But whether or not God needs a starship, there are some hints here about thawing relations between the Klingons and the Federation, a plotline that leads directly to a fairly good final movie that I will cover next weekend.
And then, well, a special announcement.